Let's face it, finding a PA to shadow is no easy task.
When I first contemplated a career as a physician assistant, I was hard-pressed to find a PA to shadow.
I was dying to connect with a PA and pick their brain, hear about everything they did, and shadow for a day or two.
But the question remains: where do you start?
Almost every PA I know would love to be approached by a potential PA school applicant.
I have never met a PA who does not like to talk about their profession.
In fact, every time I hear one of my patients discuss their dream of a career in the medical profession (often as an MD), I make sure to mention, "Have you ever thought of going to PA school?"
Many people still believe that a physician assistant is just a stepping stone on a career path to becoming an MD. I make it my personal goal to educate them otherwise.
But we PAs are busy people, and as much as we love to share information about our jobs and bathe in your abounding joy of our successes, we have patients to see, phone calls to make, insurance companies to haggle, and a plethora of other daily tasks that require our attention.
So how do you overcome this obstacle and find a PA to shadow?
PA Shadowing quick tip: Find a physician assistant to shadow or sign up to precept at Physician Assistant Shadow Online
The Foolproof Guide to Finding a PA to Shadow
1. Get a new wardrobe
Invest in some business casual. I would define this for you, but I have a horrible fashion sense - if you don't know, spend a couple of hours on Pinterest. And to the guys out there, don't ever use Axe body spray, that I do know!
2. Do your research
Jump online and look at local clinics that have PAs.
Approach smaller practices or rural practices where they might be more amenable to having someone shadow. You will have more luck at smaller clinics because large institutions often have HIPAA rules that preclude PAs from accepting students.
Contact your local, regional, or state PA chapter for insight and guidance (here is an interactive map I developed to help you). Ask to attend one of their meetings and personally seek out a PA to shadow.
Go to a local clinic, urgent care, or hospital. Search online for medical facilities in your region.
3. Always show up in person:
Whatever you do, always show up in person!
Don't leave a message on the answering machine, and don't send an email. An email, phone call, and voicemail are too easy to ignore. Trust me on this one; I do it all the time.
Here is a template for success when speaking to an office manager: "Hi, my name is Stephen (Mary, Bob, Joe Smith, etc.) and I am a pre-physician assistant student at the University of Georgia, and I am excited about becoming a PA. I read online that John Smith works here, and I saw that he is a PA. I was hoping that I could talk to him and see if I could set up some shadowing time or at least introduce myself and get to know him a bit."
- Rejection scenario 1: "James, the PA is busy right now and doesn't have time for you." You say: "I understand completely. When would be a good time to set up a time to talk?"
- Rejection scenario 2: "OK, just leave your info. I will give it to Jane the PA later." OK, do have a card with your info on it, but let them know that you will be back next week to follow up and ask when the best time would be to come back.
- Rejection scenario 3: "We don't take PAs to shadow." "That is OK; I would love to talk to Josephine, the PA, and see if she has any advice for me. When would be a good time to come back?"
Here is a template for success when speaking with a future mentor “Can I ask you a favor that I promise I will pay forward?” In almost every instance, someone is going to say yes. Then you ask, “Do you mind if I get your phone number and email address so that if I have any problems or struggles or I need some advice, I can reach out to you?”
If you already have their contact info, just ask if you can use it to contact them in the future.
4. Bring coffee
In a recent episode of the Audio PANCE and PANRE Board Review Podcast, we talked about how to be a better PA.
In this episode, we discuss the "doughnut effect" and how you can use it to your advantage when making friends with the hospital staff.
You can use a variation of the same principle here when trying to find a PA to shadow.
The goal is not to help relieve the stress of mind-blowing PA school student loan debt for your potential mentor by financing her nonfat decaf organic chocolate brownie iced vanilla double-shot gingerbread Frappuccino. The coffee is merely an olive branch you extend in hopes of getting to know a PA better. Thus, reassuring the PA you hope to shadow that you are indeed a "normal" person, just like her former self, interested in learning as much as you can about the PA profession.
A better (underutilized) approach would be to buy coffee for the receptionist and office staff in exchange for a few good words with the PA in mention to support your case. 😊
5. Use your affiliations
If you are affiliated with the military, try to find a military PA to shadow. PAs are on staff at all military medical facilities.
6. Take a HIPPA training class
Go above and beyond and take an online HIPAA training class so you are "shadow ready."
If you really want to impress, sign up for an online HIPPA training course, and become HIPPA compliant. Now when you approach prospective shadowing sites, you can show your first concern is with patient privacy. Yes!“You must first ask because the answer to the question you never ask is always “no.” - Nora RobertsClick To Tweet
7. Take a job in a clinic where PAs work
Three front desk staff and two medical assistants at my current clinic have gone on to attend PA school. They shadowed me, I took them out to lunch, I helped them with their essays, and I wrote them reference letters.
You will be hard-pressed to find a better opportunity to get to know a PA "up close and personal" than working alongside them and becoming their patient care ally.
Volunteer to work in any and every capacity!
This could be in an office or emergency room or wherever PAs are employed. In the course of your volunteer work, you might become acquainted with a PA who may be willing to let you shadow separate from your volunteer time.
What is your goal for all this PA shadowing?
Your goal should be to give a well-researched answer to this question: What does a PA do?
You may think you know the answer, but do you?
So, you want to be a physician assistant?
I recommend all Pre-PAs try to accumulate one hundred hours of shadowing across multiple specialties.
If you are thinking of a career as a physician assistant, the first step is to reach out and find one.
No matter what people say, it is not as hard as you think. In this case, the rewards will go to those who are most willing to put themselves out there.
Whether you are taking the roundabout way or the more direct, foolproof way, these paths will converge.
Don't hesitate to go all out; you will be met with big smiles from overly busy PAs and front desk staff who will (with a little coercion) be happy to take you under their wing and teach you everything they know.
Be ambitious and be confident in yourself. You want to be a PA, so be willing to take the necessary steps, even if that means feeding the coffee addictions of a sleep-deprived PA or an overworked and underpaid clinic front desk staff!
- Stephen Pasquini PA-C
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